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“Vitamin Sea” – For a better seafaring life…


In our new series on life at sea, KVH looks at the issues which can make life better for seafarers, to improve performance and enhance professionalism. 

Fighting Fatigue

A new industry project has been looking at seafarers’ fatigue, and has raised some incredibly worrying insights. So what is the state of play at sea, and what can be done to make things better?

Seafarer Fatigue




InterManager, the trade association for in-house and third party ship managers, together with The Warsash Maritime Academy, have been the driving forces behind a new fatigue study, “Project MARTHA”.

The results of MARTHA has been presented to International Maritime Organization (IMO and the industry has been urged to take notice of the findings and to act on heading off fatigue at sea.

The report highlights growing levels of fatigue, particularly among Masters and Watch Keepers, and noted that motivation was a major factor in fatigue experienced by seafarers.

Without addressing the issue, there will be accidents, losses and even deaths. In the longer term it will also have a terrible effect on the recruitment of aspiring seafarers, and retention of those we already have.


Ship Master

Ship Master

The report has highlighted a number of key areas of concern, and perhaps the most concerning is the effect of fatigue on Masters. To be in command places much responsibility on an individual, and MARTHA focused on the roles people play and the effect of fatigue.

In looking at the role of Master, the project found a number of differences in the role of command which have a debilitating effect on fatigue. The study found 5 key problems for Masters:

1. Masters have more weekly work hours
2. Masters feel that work in port is less demanding than work at sea
3. Masters are far more fatigued at the end of a contract
4. Masters are slightly more overweight compared to others onboard
5. Masters suffer from mental fatigue, compared to physical fatigue suffered by other seafarers

So unsurprisingly, the fatigue issues for Masters are based on the mental rather than manual. Captains are working hard, they are thinking hard, and they are not really finding time to exercise and manage their health. These are all very worrying indeed.


Performance levels

Performance levels

It is well reported and known that fatigue has a massive effect on performance, and there are serious implications across the whole ship – and even for issues such as cargo care and safety in ports.

Obviously the performance of seafarers onboard is paramount to a vessel’s operation and efficiency. The MARTHA study found:

• Seafarers are not being relieved on time
• There are implications for motivation
• 48.6% of participants felt stress was higher at the end of a voyage
• Sleepiness levels vary little during the voyage,

So it seems that the whole if you start to become tired or fatigued, there is little scope to claw it back – and this has a terrible cumulative effect during the course of a trip to sea. Too little time to recover means that many seafarers are fatigued by the time they head for home.


Seafarers from around the world

Seafarer culture

One of the interesting issues in the study was that of the cultural differences at sea towards fatigue. There was a clear divide between European and Chinese seafarers found:

• European seafarers work fewer hours than Chinese crew
• Chinese seafarers on dry bulk carriers worked an average of 15.11 hours a day compared to European seafarers who worked an average 10.23 hours a day
• There is evidence of higher levels of fatigue and stress in Chinese seafarers, rather than European seafarers

This means that Chinese seafarers are working in excess of 100 hours a week…which is quite staggering. This is a recipe for disaster and needs to be managed better.

The MARTHA project is a wake-up call, which is ironic given that seafarers are not getting enough sleep! Things have to change, and that is the aim of the project, to make sure that the research translates into action.


Time for change

Time for change

Addressing the IMO Capt Szymanski of InterManager said he hoped the results will be read and acted upon. Shipping is demanding more from seafarers, and there has to be a change, as the current approach is not working.

Kuba stressed a number of “low hanging fruits” which, with a little adjustment, could make a big difference. These are not necessarily costly changes – such as having seafarers relieved on time and organising work onboard with humans and not regulations in mind.

It was also stressed that decisions should be made with the engagement and input from sea staff. To understand fatigue, and to get the right results companies need to empower seafarers to take care of their lives, their health and their wellbeing. This is a good start, but now is the time for action.

Take a look at the results of the study in more detail